State Budget Brings Good News
Next year’s nearly $14 billion state budget was approved overwhelmingly by the House and Senate during this week’s special legislative session and sent to Gov. McMaster’s desk. It took extra weeks to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget, but the compromise plan is full of good news.
Good News Budget
No legislator likes everything in a budget bill. The state budget is complex, with competing priorities producing some controversial funding, depending on one’s point of view. However, in totality, this budget prioritizes PEOPLE over PROGRAMS and PROJECTS. Like any business, our talented, competent state employees are a critical asset.
Retaining State Employees
With sky-high inflation, SC public employees will get at least a $2,500 pay boost starting next month. The lowest-paid state employees will get the most significant raise in terms of percentage. In addition to the 5% increases, targeted salary increases for critical needs positions in state law enforcement, corrections, Nursing, and mental health, will boost pay by 15%. The starting pay for State Troopers will be $55,000.
K-12 Public Education Investment
The budget also raises the minimum pay of K-12 public school teachers by $2,500. Starting teachers will be paid $42,500 – a 33% increase in base pay over the past five years.
Based on the learning hit suffered by K-12 students because of the pandemic, students benefit directly from this budget with a historic investment in state aid to classrooms. This $260 million allocation equates to $500 per pupil. Aid to classrooms has increased a half a billion dollars, or 13%, in just two years.
School safety is a priority. This budget spends $27 million to fully fund a Safety Resource Officer (SRO) in every public school in the state.
$120 million is being sent to the poorest school districts to construct K-12 schools.
Higher Education Investment
Every parent knows that higher education costs are skyrocketing around the nation. Not so in South Carolina. This budget ensures a tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students at all public 4-year and 2-year colleges for the fifth year.
More than two-thirds of today’s jobs require education beyond high school. To help students afford that education, this budget triples the investment in our technical colleges by increasing tuition mitigation from $7 million this past year to $20 million split between the technical colleges. Doubling the investment in SC WINS Scholarships to $94 million provides technical college funding for students enrolled in critical workforce needs programs.
The higher education scholarships (LIFE, HOPE, Palmetto Fellow, and Lottery Tuition Assistance) are fully funded, and more than $4 million in scholarships are dedicated to students with disabilities for advancement in academics, socialization, independent living, and career development.
Clemson University receives $103 million as the first installment to create South Carolina’s first veterinarian school. There is a severe shortage of veterinarians nationwide and in the state, leaving many local vets struggling to keep up. Currently, South Carolinians wanting to go to vet school must go out of state to attend the four universities that offer the doctoral program.
During the March budget debate, I reported on my SC State University campus tour and applauded the ‘Great Reset’ the university’s leadership accomplished. This HBCU was in the ditch in 2017 because of mismanagement, resulting in plummeting enrollment. SC State has paid back its $6 million bailout loan from the state and is flourishing with record enrolment applications. This budget spends $55 million to provide long-overdue renovations for campus buildings. That money will construct the first state-funded building at South Carolina State this century.
Mental Health Investment
To increase mental and behavioral health access, $13 million will help firm up the state’s ability to answer all in-state calls to the suicide prevention call centers rather than sending those calls out of state. The money also expands the Department of Mental Health’s alternative transportation program to 20 counties and strengthens the states’ treatment of alcohol and substance abuse. A total of $51 million is being appropriated to compensate the state’s mental health and nursing professionals.
Over $4M is being sent to the State Elections Commission to create an all-new training department to ensure local election volunteers and employees are appropriately prepared for future elections. Other staff includes GIS mapping specialists and administrative support for voter registration data to enhance the integrity of the voting process in SC.
This budget keeps the legislature’s promise to continue to cut the state’s income tax on citizens. It reduces the state income tax by $96 million in the second year of the income tax reduction plan. It also budgets for an additional $134 million in property tax cuts. In the past 30 years, the General Assembly has passed over $50 billion in tax cuts.
Most people believe the government spends every tax dollar and much more. That’s true in Washington, DC, but not in SC. We have a balanced budget and save for a rainy day by increasing our reserve funds to $1.1 billion.
If you wish to dive deeper into the state budget, you may do so by clicking on this graphic presentation. Gov. McMaster has until midnight June 20 to veto spending in the budget package. Whether legislators return next week to take up his line-item vetoes will depend on what he strikes. Legislative leaders say they may wait until the regular session resumes in January to decide whether to restore individual items. The state’s fiscal year starts July 1.
Tough on Bad Guys
“BAM!” That’s the sound of the jailhouse revolving door slamming shut on the bad dudes who cause serious crimes. Repeat offenders charged with repeat violent crimes get arrested, post bond, and are quickly back on the street to do more crimes.
Over the next few months, significant changes will be coming to the state’s bail bond system after the legislature gave final approval to a reform bill this week. The legislation will make it progressively harder for defendants charged with repeat violent crimes to post bond and be released from jail. It would allow solicitors to seek a sentence of up to five years for those convicted of committing a violent crime while out on bond for a previously alleged violent crime. It also gives SLED the responsibility to set rules for the now unregulated GPS ankle monitoring industry.
Bond reform has been a priority among Republican legislators to close “the revolving door” — a phrase they use to refer to violent offenders being arrested and released back into the community. Gov. McMaster says he will sign the bill.
Help for First Responders
The House and Senate sent a bill to the Governor to expand the state’s first responder death benefit program to include EMS personnel, firefighters, and coroners. Families of first responders who died in the line of duty would receive $75,000 or, if the death was the result of unlawful or intentional acts, $150,000.
Protecting the Electrical Grid
Both the House and Senate unanimously passed a bill that makes attacking electrical or telecommunications utility equipment punishable by up to 25 years in prison. That legislation comes in response to a series of attacks in January on North Carolina’s grid that caused power outages.
This past Wednesday was likely the last day for this year’s legislative session. Gov. McMaster has until midnight June 20 to veto spending line-by-line in the budget package. Whether legislators return next week to consider his vetoes will depend on what he strikes. Legislative leaders said they might wait until the regular session resumes in January to decide on whether to vote to sustain or override individual vetoes.
Legislators joke about what part of their job is part-time. Like most states, S.C.’s General Assembly is supposed to be part-time. However, that has not been the case for more than three years. Starting in 2020 with the pandemic, the General Assembly has been in session year around. Notably, in ‘20 and ‘21, the House and Senate met sporadically throughout the year to mainly deal with COVID issues. In ‘23, the session was extended into the fall to address the state’s legislative response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Roe vs. Wade. It appears this year brings back normalcy to the legislative calendar.
PICTURE OF THE WEEK
HOPE YOU HAD A GREAT HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!
I’m blessed to be a dad of two and a grandfather of four. May every father feel the love and joy I experience.
Dad: ‘A son’s first hero, a daughter’s first love.’
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